Mary Tyler Moore, TV Star And Feminist Icon, Has Died At Age 80

By Keri Blakinger 01/26/17

The acclaimed actress, whose parents were both alcoholics, chronicled her own battle with the disease in her memoir.

Mary Tyler Moore

Mary Tyler Moore, the feminist icon and television star best known as the leading lady of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, died Wednesday in Connecticut. She was 80. The Brooklyn native died at Greenwich Hospital of cardiopulmonary arrest following on the heels of pneumonia, according to the New York Times

Though she set new standards for women on TV in her Emmy-winning role as an independent and unmarried female professional, Moore’s private life was scarred by addiction. Born in Brooklyn Heights in 1936, Moore was raised by two alcoholic parents until she eventually went to live with her aunt, only seeing her mother and father occasionally.

Moore appeared in her first commercial at 17. After tying the knot with a salesman named Richard Meeker, she started television acting. In the 1960s, she played on The Dick Van Dyke Show. After the show ended, Moore and her second husband pitched an idea for what would become The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Although that second shot at marriage—with Grant Tinker—provided the spark for the wildly popular eponymous TV show, it also coincided with a period of heavy drinking, according to Moore’s 1995 memoir, After All. Her love for alcohol contributed to the bitter spats that marked the end of that marriage, she wrote, according to the New York Daily News’ contemporary review of the tell-all.

But life without Tinker was just as hard. The tortured celeb began numbing the pain with too much drink, a problem that had been building since her days on The Dick Van Dyke Show. “I took to making margaritas in the blender: one quarter of a blender of bottled mix, one quarter of ice, one half of tequila and shake it up,” she wrote. “It had the consistency of a milk shake and the effect of morphine. I loved to take it to my bed.”

The unhappy couple parted ways in 1981, just a year after Moore’s only son accidentally shot himself, and three years after her younger sister died of a drug and alcohol overdose in 1978. 

But after Moore got married a third time, her new husband suggested she check into rehab—so she went to the Betty Ford Clinic in 1984. She finally revealed the details of her struggles with alcohol a decade later in her memoir. 

As word of the star’s passing circulated Wednesday, Hollywood took to the internet to mourn. “There are no words,” tweeted Dick Van Dyke. “She was THE BEST! We always said that we changed each other's lives for the better.”

Stars from a newer generation agreed. “I loved Mary Tyler Moore on so many levels it was confusing,” wrote actor Ben Stiller. “Such a huge part of our culture and consciousness.”

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.